As I briefly noted here last night, I was dragooned into our team coverage here at the Daily News into the story of Bonnie Sweeten, the blondiful suburban mom who reported the dramatic "kidnapping" of herself and her 9-year-old daughter, a fable that was summed up by a great DN headline after it was learned they'd really fled to Disney's Magic Kingdom: "Fantasyland."
So many questions. The biggest one, which is why do people do such things, will likely remain an eternal mystery -- even Sweeten herself probably couldn't explain why she upended so many lives.
But here's two other things that have me troubled by this case.
1) From Minute One, this story stank to high heaven. Stranger kidnappings like the one that Sweeten described in her 911 calls are rare beyond belief, and the absence of either her SUV or any eyewitnesses to the abduction at a crowded intersection on Street Road in Bucks County all screamed out, "Hoax!" It was still a very serious incident -- the whereabouts of a 9-year-girl were indeed unknown. But I wonder why there wasn't some way for the media to better signal the skepticism much earlier, and more clearly, in its wall-to-wall coverage.
That's especially true for national cable media, which -- if it were a fish -- would only survive in the water for 5 minutes, given its ability to swallow any rancid bait...hook, line, and sinker. Isn't there some way to report the basics -- that people are looking for a 9-year-old girl -- while noting that the initial frantic report to the cops was just that, a report that could have nothing to do with the girl's actual whereabouts?
2) Others are starting to weigh in on this, and it's hard to know what to say beyond the fact I'm flat-out disgusted at the repeated pattern of white suburban wrongdoers --Boston's Charles Stuart, Susan Smith, and now our own Bonnie Sweeten -- who think they can cover up their own crimes by simply saying "a black man did it." Are we ever going to get past that sort of thing in America?
Jerry Mondesire of the local NAACP is on the money here:
J. Whyatt Mondesire, Philadelphia NAACP president, called the case "a disgusting reminder of Susan Smith" - the South Carolina woman who drowned her two children in 1994 but blamed a nonexistent black carjacker - "where the cops fell for it." He added: "While we have an African-American in the White House, obviously a lot of minds need changing."